Fudebakudo in Medieval Europe

Swordfighters from ARMA archiveMost people familiar with Fudebakudo know it as an oriental martial art. Its history — traced right back to its introduction to China some time around 500AD — is described in a little more detail in the book. But its spread into the West, probably following the spice routes overland through Constantinople, is not so well understood. Part of the problem, of course, is that historical records rarely if ever openly mention Fudebakudo because it was (and still is) a secret martial art. In fact, the absence of explicit reference to Fudebakudo in the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages pretty much proves what a total secret it was. When Fudebakudo does occur, it is always in a covert or coded fashion. Because many historians are not aware of the subtlety of this, clear references can often be overlooked.

A case in point can be found in old instruction books from medieval European sword fighting schools. In this case, I need to remind you that one aspect of Fudebakudo is the traditional use of three colours — namely, black, white, and red. This long-standing triumvirate is explained in this FAQ question ("Why is everything black, white, and red?").

With that in mind, it is telling to read on the website of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (about half-way down the page, on the right) the following:

 . . .many of the old Fechtbuchs (fighting books) in fact wrote in red and black ink. Theory was described in red while the explanation was black.

Today, the ARMA actually wear Fudebakudo colours as a tacit acknowledgment of the importance of Fudebakudo's role in the development of Western sword fighting. Nonetheless, presumably to respect the secret nature of the art, nowhere on their website do they openly admit to the connection. To a trained eye, of course, that implicit denial proves that the ARMA, behind oak-pannelled, iron-studded doors, is — even as you read this — studying the secret techniques of historical Fudebakudo. Well done them.